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Defying court's rules, anti-secrecy group posts tape of Bradley Manning statement

An anti-secrecy group, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, has released a recording of Bradley Manning's courtroom statement, in which he admits to illegally giving WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of government documents. NBC's Michael Isikoff reports.

An anti-secrecy group on Tuesday released a secretly made audio recording of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning's recent hour-long statement to a military judge in which he openly admitted leaking hundreds of thousands of government documents to WikiLeaks as part of an effort to "spark a domestic debate on the role of the military" and "help document the true cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

 "In an era where government secrecy is at an all-time high, we believe Bradley Manning's actions should  be commended rather  than condemned," said Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, the group that obtained the audio recording and posted it on its website. "In our minds, Bradley Manning is absolutely a whistleblower."

The group -- whose board members include Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971 -- said it obtained the recording from a source it declined to identify. Manning’s statement was made in open court but the group acknowledges the recording  was  made in violation of military  rules which explicitly forbid “photographs, video and sound recordings” of the proceedings.  

On Tuesday, the U.S. Army Military District of Washington notified the military judge presiding over the Manning court-martial that there was a violation of the Rules for Court.

"The U.S. Army is currently reviewing the procedures set in place to safeguard the security and integrity of the legal proceedings, and ensure Pfc. Manning receives a fair and impartial trial," it said in a statement.

During the Feb. 28 session at Fort Meade, Md., Manning pleaded guilty to 10 of the lesser charges he is facing, including  unauthorized possession and transmission of "protected information." He is still facing a military court martial in June on 12 more serious charges that include "aiding the enemy" and which could result in a life sentence.

Prosecutors have signaled they intend to call a Navy Seal who participated in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in an apparent move to establish that some of the material that Manning leaked wound up in the al-Qaida leader's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

P.J. Crowley, the State Department's former top spokesman who lost his job after criticizing the U.S. military's treatment of Manning, who was kept in solitary confinement for 10 months, told NBC News  he nonetheless believes the Army private's actions remain indefensible.

"It's nonsense to call Bradley Manning a political prisoner," Crowley said. "He is a member of the military  who was serving in an active war zone and took it on himself to compromise hundreds of thousands of documents."

In his statement to the court, Manning spoke about how as a low-level intelligence analyst in Iraq, he came across material that disturbed him and made him question U.S. policy. He cited a 2007 aerial video of a U.S. helicopter attack that killed innocent civilians and two Reuters journalists.

“The most alarming aspect of the video to me…was the seeming delightful blood lust the Aerial Weapons Team seemed to have,” Manning said. “They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life, and referred to them as quote, unquote, ‘dead bastards.’” 

 Manning also spoke how he became depressed and, as a young gay man in the Army, had trouble fitting in. “In real life, I lacked a close friendship with the people I worked with,” Manning said. “For instance, I lacked close ties with my roommate (because of) his discomfort regarding my perceived sexual orientation.”

Instead, Manning said he found comfort from a relationship he developed online — with someone who worked at WikiLeaks, to whom he sent the aerial video in 2010 after burning a CD copy on his computer. He gave his online interlocutor  –  whom he now believes may have been the group’s founder, Julian Assange, or one of his top associates — the name “Nathaniel.”

“Over the next few months, I stayed in frequent contact with Nathaniel,” Manning said. “We conversed on nearly a daily basis and I felt we were developing a friendship. The conversations covered many topics and I enjoyed the ability to talk about pretty much everything — not just the publications that (WikiLeaks) was working on…

“For me, these conversations represented an opportunity to escape from the immense pressures and anxiety that I experienced and built up throughout the deployment,” Manning said. “It seems that as I tried harder to fit in at work, the more I seemed to alienate my peers and lose the respect, trust and support I needed.”

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